This new release (2019), directed and co-written by Alejandro Landes, is like Lord of the Flies on shrooms.

Monos is an exciting, visceral and disturbing film, which has been selected by Colombia as its entry for the upcoming Oscars in the category of International Feature Film. In October 2019 the film also won the prize for best film at the official competition of the 2019 British Film Institute (BFI) London Film Festival.

Eight tooled-up teens linked to the shady ‘Organization’ camp out in filth on a misty, rainy South American mountain top, keeping tabs on an American hostage known only as Doctora, and supplied with milk from a conscripted black and white cow called Shakira.

Subjected to a tough, intermittent training regime under the mysterious, diminutive and hard-bodied ‘Messenger’, when they kick back, they really kick back. The 15th birthday of one teen (with the nom de guerre Rambo) is celebrated with a ritual beating. This is followed, when darkness falls, by hedonistic, tribal scenes, reminiscent of a 90s squat rave, which at times took me right back to a typical night out circa 1998; even the cow has glow sticks. After Shakira is accidentally shot dead, however, events, already undercut with danger, take an increasingly darker turn.

The film is elemental, with scenes of the child soldiers looking down from their mountain top onto expansive, gorgeous, endlessly cloud-filled skies, and miles of rain forest. The soundtrack by Mica Levi is haunting, evoking the fluting whistles of birds, and at times a sort of innocence and at others, menace. The cinematography is often beautiful, and the film builds a claustrophobic sense of threat, laced with sweat, bugs and humidity.

There is minimal dialogue, which works to build up the feeling of disconnection and dread. The action takes place at an undefined time (there is no evidence of mobile phones or computers), so it could just as easily be now or 50 years ago. We never get the teenagers’ back story, and we know very little about the organization of which they form a part (presumably at least tangentially based on the Colombian guerrilla movement FARC), but we do witness rare moments of vulnerability and brokenness, as events spiral. I watched the film subtitled in English, and the Spanish-speaking performances are electrifying, with little-known actors working alongside well-known figures from US movies and TV series, such as Moisés Arias, a former star of Hannah Montana.

The film is definitely worth catching on the big screen if you can, as its power would undoubtedly be weakened if watched in other formats.

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